September 29, 2014 / 7:50 PM / 5 years ago

Missouri man alleging sexual abuse by priest seeks $10 million from diocese

INDEPENDENCE Mo. (Reuters) - It has been 30 years, but Kansas City’s Catholic diocese still should pay a heavy price for allowing a now-dead priest to repeatedly sexually abuse a former altar boy, a lawyer for the alleged victim said in court Monday, kicking off a $10 million lawsuit against the diocese.

Jon David Couzens, then age 10, said he was molested 20 times over two years in the early 1980s by Monsignor Thomas O’Brien, who died in 2013. Couzens was deeply involved in Catholic school and church activities.

The alleged abuse included an encounter in which O’Brien forced Couzens and other altar boys to perform sex acts on each other and on the priest, according to Couzens’ attorney, Rebecca Randles.

The lawsuit alleges that the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph intentionally failed to supervise O’Brien despite years of complaints and allegations by teachers and parents about the priest. Randles asked the jury Monday to order the diocese to pay $10 million in compensatory damages along with punitive damages.

“Jon David Couzens was shattered as a result of that abuse. He is still putting himself back together,” she told the jury, which is hearing the case in Jackson County Circuit Court in Independence, Missouri.

In previous lawsuits O’Brien was accused of sexual abuse by several children. He was removed from his assignment as a pastor in Independence in 1983 and then served as a part-time hospital chaplain until 2002.

Diocesan attorney David Frye told the jury even if the jury believes the claims of abuse by O’Brien, its only task is to determine if the diocese and its leader at that time, Bishop John Joseph Sullivan intentionally allowed the abuse to occur. Sullivan is also dead,

Frye also attacked Couzens’ credibility, saying he has told various versions of events and said that claims that he repressed memories of the abuse until he filed his lawsuit in 2011 were inconsistent with other statements he has made.

The trial of the civil suit is the latest embarrassment for the Kansas City diocese. In 2012, one of its priests pled guilty to producing child pornography, and the diocese’s current leader, Bishop Robert Finn, was convicted of failing to report him to law enforcement.

In 2008, the diocese settled a lawsuit for $10 million brought by 47 plaintiffs who claimed they were repeatedly sexually abused by priests when they were children.

Reporting by Carey Gillam in Independence, Mo.; editing by Cynthia Osterman

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